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A Garden in Tunis against fear and terror

by Gabriele Nissim

The plaque of the names of the victims of the attack against the Bardo Museum

The plaque of the names of the victims of the attack against the Bardo Museum

In Tunis, the rooms of the Bardo Museum are empty. Where until a few months ago tourists used to flock and cram the space around some of the most beautiful mosaics in the Roman and Byzantine world, today there is a great silence. Ala Eddine Hamdi, the Tunisian guide who saved dozens of French tourists, who was though never remembered in Paris, is despaired: "The Bardo is bound to die, we have no money to repair the damages and offer tourists audio-guides and new books about the beauties of this museum. Unless we win over fear we will see no more Italian tourists. I started studying Russian, because today it is the only language spoken in these rooms.”

In the harbour of Tunis, the big ships that took here thousands of European tourists do not sail anymore. Dozens of hotels in the most beautiful maritime villages have closed their doors. The fear that suddenly a boat of terrorists ready to open fire against everybody can land on the beaches is still too strong among Westerners.

When a tourist bus suddenly stops at the archaeological site of Carthage, guides nearly celebrate, because they are no more used to that.

So big is their joy that it can happen to hear them tell the story of that ancient civilization - challenging Rome and realizing one of  the most advanced urban centers of the ancient times - with an enthusiasm and passion that are rarely found in a guide used to the mechanic repetition of his or her notions.

At the airport of Tunis we feel almost a kind of tenderness in seeing the surveillance agents work very scrupulously to check all passengers. You immediately understand they are no security professionals and they manage to make up for the lack of refined technological means with a craftman's attention to detail.

These days Muslims celebrate the Ramadan and the country leaders know in the mind of terrorists there is a hidden thought. The best way to honor Allah, in the opinion of these fanatics, is to perform a spectacular action in a moment of feast. If that ever happened, Tunisia would have a fatal blow and the economy would fall apart.

While today the headlines of the American newspapers read the dreadful attack to the disco as if it were an assault specifically targeting the West, in Tunis, instead, the interpretation of Muslim fundamentalism is completely different. That kind of a totalitarian moster hits first of all the most modern and advanced forces of the Arab and Muslim world. Tunisia today is threatened because it is the only country that, after the Arab Spring, chose secularism and the separation between politics and religion. The party Ennahda itself, inspired by Islam, in its recent congress decided to undertake a pathway of modernity.

Differently from Egypt, Tunisia chose democracy and not dictatorship, to stem fundamentalism. This process though proves to be fragile, if the economic and political support of Europe and Western democracy falters.

As Italian ambassador Raimondo De Cardona pointed out, there is the serious risk that due to the economic crisis not only a serious disillusionment among the democratic forces can appear, but fundamentalist and extreme forces can gain momentum again in some sectors of the population.

This is why the initiative that Gariwo. along with the Foreign Ministry and the Italian Embassy, is to hold in Tunisia in July, has a great moral and political value.

Attorney Ben Moussa, in fact, who precisely this year received the Peace Nobel Prize for his commitment for democracy in Tunisia, will inaugurate the first Garden of the Righteous in an Arab country.

The choice of the names is of the utmost importance. In fact two heroes of the anti-Isis resistance, archaeologist Khaled al-Asaad and Hamadi Abdessalam, the Tunisian guide who rescued about 20 Italian tourists during the terror attack against the Bardo Museum, will be awarded, along with Mohamed Buazizi, the young Tunisian street vendor who self-immolated like Prague's Jan Palach and sparked the struggle for rights that led to the fall of the authoritarian regime of Ben Ali's; and then an extraordinary figure for dialogue between Jews, Arabs and Muslims, such as Khaled Abdul Wahab, the Tunisian who rescued dozens of Jews during the Nazi occupation. It is the first time in an Arab country, in an anti-Zionist climate, that such an initiative to remember the rescuers of Jews takes place. Until yesterday this was a taboo topic.

A garden cannot change the world, but it is a sign opposing the trend of the temptations widespread in America after the attack to the disco and with the Trump's mediatic charme, who considers every Muslim as a potential enemy of the humanity.

Fundamentalism shall be defeated together with the Arabs and Muslims who are in the first line for democracy, and not by creating fences and divisions.

A sign of a different politics could come from young people and from Italian tourists.
If again the rooms of the Bardo Museum are filled with tourists and these will also flock to the beaches of Tunisia, it will mean we will have defeated fear and shown that we are really on the side of the Arabs against fundamentalism.

This, too is the meaning of the Garden of the Righteous in Tunis.

Gabriele Nissim, Gariwo chairman

Analysis by Gabriele Nissim, Gariwo chairman

15 June 2016

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